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Posts tagged ‘weekend getaway’

No. 342: Arrivederci Tuscana

So long charming beauty,

cobbled streets, steep, stone stairways and solitary cypress.

À bientôt windswept hill towns,

vast valleys, medieval ramparts,

and burnt Siena edges.

Ciao for now silvered olive trees,

Romanesque chapels, streaming sunlight and painted sunsets.

Arrivederci aromatic Brunello and salacious Chianti,

already missing the rustic Italian good life and countryside pace…

No. 327: Grapes


France’s Major White Grape Varieties

Grape Variety and Region(s)
Chardonnay: Burgundy; Champagne; Languedoc
Chenin Blanc: Loire Valley
Sauvignon Blanc: Bordeaux; Loire Valley; southwestern France; Languedoc
Gewürztraminer: Alsace
Pinot Gris: Alsace
Pinot Blanc: Alsace
Marsanne: Rhône Valley
Muscadet: Loire Valley
Riesling: Alsace
Roussanne: Rhône Valley
Sémillon: Bordeaux; Southwest France
Viognier: Rhône Valley; Languedoc

France’s Major Red Grape Varieties

Grape Variety and Region(s)
Cabernet Sauvignon: Bordeaux; Southwest France; Languedoc
Cabernet Franc: Loire Valley; Bordeaux; Southwest France
Carignan: Rhône Valley; Southern France
Cinsault: Rhône Valley; Southern France
Gamay: Beaujolais
Grenache: Rhône Valley; Southern France
Merlot: Bordeaux; Southwest France; Languedoc
Malbec: Southwest France; Bordeaux
Mourvèdre: Rhône Valley; Southern France
Pinot Noir: Burgundy; Champagne
Syrah: Rhône Valley; Southern France

Source: Grape Varieties Grown in France – For Dummies

No. 323-325: The City of Painters, Matisse Encore and André Derain

Making our way across southern France on what we are calling our farewell tour, we passed through the Languedoc coastal region, an area heavily influenced by the Moors, Charlemagne, and of course Spain. We landed in the small resort town of Collioure, 15 minutes from the Spanish border, in what is arguably one of the worst hotels we have ever stayed in, but literally a stone’s throw away from la plage and the action of this enticing seaside village. It takes a good day for the place to grow on you. It is hard to get over the peak season crowds, the complete lack of parking, and the blaring nightlife. But in the end, the pastel houses like so many cool shavings of Italian ice and the perfectly pebble beaches have won us over.

What I find breathtaking about Collioure is the cacophony of color. From the beach umbrellas and bikinis to the rooftops and shutters to the sailboats’ sails and covers, this one time fishing hamlet is a visual banquet. A once-mighty fortress, a winking lighthouse, and a churning windmill enhance the town’s delicious scene, all nestled in the shade of the magnificent Pyrenees. Collioure_france7.jpg The saturation, sharpness, and shifting of colors is terrifically appealing. While Venice has her mystical light and the blending and bending of water and color that sometimes blurs the edges, Collioure has her petulant perimeters and distinctive frames. At any given time of the day, the Mediterranean turns from a calming turquoise to a deep azure to a stark cobalt blue. The rooftops roll from cool clay, to burnt orange, to fiery brown. Broad palm trees bind the boardwalk, their trunks and fronds so deliberate and precise, proof to me at least, that the gods were involved in shaping this marvelous canvas.


I suspect that Henri Matisse, André Derain, Marc Chagall, Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso shared this belief too. Scattered throughout the museums of Europe are marvelous paintings inspired by their own visits to this enchanting seaside town and the colorful Catalan harbor. The tourist office makes it easy to follow in the footsteps of Matisse and Derain with “Le chemin du Fauvisme”, a route lined with copies of their works placed at the spots where they were originally painted, allowing viewers to compare the paintings to the existing view.

Following the narrow cobbled streets through the charming chalk-colored houses dripping with Bougainvillea, the view of the sea is always a constant, and it is easy to understand why Collioure is considered the birthplace of the Fauvist Movement. According to Derain, the rare quality of the light was their muse; and as Matisse claimed, “No sky in all France is more blue than that of Collioure.” Today, Collioure is still a thriving art town with around thirty different artists living and painting here. It is a gem of a ville. If I had the talent to paint, I would make it my home too.


No. 322: Let the Sun(flowers) Shine In


No. 321: Lavender Fields Forever



No.296: Normandie—Mont Saint Michel


Abbey steep, thrust there, far from land,

as a mansion fantastic, amazing as

a dream palace, strange and improbably beautiful “



“The church was magical

the sun streaming in

the divine voices echoing off the walls

I adored the abbey

the mud was scrumdillilious

the best mud ever…”


Between rock and sea, a sheer-sided citadel-like abbey rises 80-metres out of the sand and water magnificently dominating the surrounding low-lying region of Normandie. This is Mont Saint Michel. Towering above an immense bay beset by the highest tides in Europe, the sea spills in over a dozen miles in the space of just a few hours, creating one of the most breathtaking sites in France.

Mont Saint Michel dates back to the 700s when at the “request” of the Archangel Michel a local bishop consecrated a small church on the point. Over the centuries Benedictines monks settled on the rock and continued building an abbey and monastery. During the Hundred Years War military construction was added to fortify the compound. In the early Middle Ages ascetic Christians known as hermits chose this site to live in complete poverty, and in an attempt to be closer to God, continued to the abbey towards the heavens.

It became a great spiritual and intellectual centre and was one of the most important places of pilgrimage for the western world. Multitudes of men, women, and children arrived by the paths to paradise—hoping for “the assurance of eternity, given by the Archangel at judgment.”

During the days of the French Revolution, the abbey was ransacked and nearly demolished and the remains were turned into a prison. It was restored in the 19th century and is now considered one of France’s national treasures.

Although an active religious community resides in Mont Saint Michel and it is still a place of pilgrimage for the faithful, it is now more of a Mecca of buzzing tourists. Over three million visitors make the trek each year. Aside from the astounding citadel-abbey and IMAX-like vista, tourists come to play in the tides. If you have ever been to the Great Sand Dunes National Monument in Colorado you will understand exactly what type of sands surround the castle. At times the sea travels under the sand, creating traitorous pockets of quicksand, but most of the time it is merely harmless sinking sand, ready to delighting the young and old alike.

The small Normand village of inns, shops and taverns nestled below the abbey was built to house and water the pilgrims at the end of their journey. Nowadays as Superman rather crankily observed, “it represents the worst of humanity, packed like sardines” and pushing forward without regard for others. I was less bothered by the crowds. Instead they gave me an appreciation for what it must have been like centuries ago. The junky trinkets, hawking vendors, and overpriced scrummy eateries were all there to welcome the original pilgrims. Some things don’t change. At least we were afforded the modern conveniences of sewers and showers, clean drinking water and health codes. No plagues or rats; no stench of unbathed travelers, although the numbers of extremely overweight visitors—French no less—was an unsettling reminder of what awaits us in America.

Nonetheless, this picturesque meeting point of sand, sea, and sky, is a trip worth making.

No. 294: Festival du Cinéma Américain de Deauville


Moseying along the red ironwood boardwalk today, I finally decided to look up why the beach cabins lining the walkway are named after American actors and directors. What I discovered is that each cabana is named for an American cinema icon who has attended the resort’s Festival du Cinéma Américain de Deauville.

The festival began in the mid-1970s and was first created to “prolong the summer and illuminate the boardwalk with starlight…”

According to the festival’s website, which could use a bit of English editing…the Deauville American Cinema Festival has been the ephemeral site where young and rising American directors are discovered and acknowledged. A space for films where dreams come to life, nurturing the coalescence of the collective imagination linked to the greatest cinematography in the world: yesterday’s, today’s and tomorrow’s projected on the big screen; a whole industry and its stars and its legends. This is the America of the cinema: this is American Cinema.

This year is the 40th anniversary of the festival and, boy howdy, I would love to go. It is the only film festival in the world that offers the general film-loving public 10-day, 24/24 access to every film screened.

Hmm…I feel a girls’ week brewing!

Book your pass here.